While mold, insects, rats and dust may sound like we're listing plagues, these are actually common violations found in supermarkets and grocery stores across Long Island, including Southampton, state data show.
Patch has pulled together information on grocery store inspections across New York state to create our exclusive interactive map, culled from public data supplied by the state's Department of Agriculture and Markets. Unlike restaurants, which are inspected by the Suffolk County Department of Health, grocers in town are inspected by this state agency.
For Southampton Patch, we collected data on 66 markets in the area, ranging from major chain supermarkets to smaller meat or seafood shops, pharmacies and convenience stores. And while sushi restaurants are inspected by the county, sushi stands located in grocery stores are inspected by the state.
In the data above you find results of a store's latest food safety inspection as of Jan. 30, and the location's past performance. Violations are either listed as "general deficiencies," which inspectors say did not present an immediate heath risk, and "critical deficiencies" that pose a real hazard to customers. One critical violation and the market fails inspection.
How Southampton Scored
When it came to markets that failed most recent inspections, Southampton had relatively few, though there were some places with issues.
Tim's Prime Meats & Seafood in Sag Harbor was the only market to fail its most recent inspection when state workers in September 2012 cited them for a dirty, food-caked meat grinder. It was second time that butcher failed in 2012. In July of that year, inspectors failed the market afer they found up to 10 mouse droppings between a seafood display case and a prep table.
The only other market to fail in Southampton was Schmidts Fish Market. Though it passed its most recent visit in July 2012, the market failed earlier that year in March when workers found up to 50 rat droppings under a pallet of to-go containers as well as one dead rat.
When it came to general deficiencies that health inspectors do not consider to be health risks, Schmidts actually topped the list with 28, mostly related to dirt and grime buildup, rusty displays and equipment as well as a few live flies. According to the report, inspectors also found that the outside dumpster area was plagued with "overgrowth of extensive dense, vegetation, accumulation of spilled refuse and undrained stagnant water." The inspector said the flies in that area were too many to count.
Cromers Country Market in Sag Harbor had the second highest amount of general deficiencies with 21, most related to dust and dirt, improper storage of knives and the lack of hand washing signs.
Schmidt's grocery market in Southampton had 20 general issues, also related to things like knife storage and hand washing signs.
When it came to the area's cleanest markets, Peconic Beverage had only one general violation for dusty floors, while the Cumberland Farms market had two for having a gap in its door and some dusty floors as well.
See the map above for the full results.
According to the state, there were 110 inspectors on the state’s payroll in 2012 responsible for about 31,000 retail food stores and around 6,200 food warehouses, wineries and other processors. Delis are included in the department’s inspections if 50 percent or less of their business is selling ready-to-eat food.
"They are our eyes and ears behind the scenes," said Robert Gravani, a professor at Cornell University who trains state inspectors.
Inspectors show up unannounced, and can spend as little as hour or more than a day inspecting a store, said Stephen Stich, Director of Food Safety and Inspection at the department.
The Inspection System
In 29 percent of the 30,372 retail food store inspections conducted statewide in 2012, the inspector found one or more problems that could make customers sick, Patch’s analysis of public records shows.
If an inspector finds a serious hazard to food safety, the store fails the inspection. Our analysis found more than 5,300 stores across the state failed an inspection last year, and more than 1,100 stores failed more than once. The department can fine the store up to $600 for the first critical deficiency, and double that amount for any more critical problems.
The department does more than just hand out fines. Sometimes, inspectors supervise supermarket employees as they correct violations on the spot, such as sanitizing dirty deli slicers, Stich said. Inspectors also hold in-store trainings to educate employees on the importance of food safety.
"These companies want to do things right," Gravani said. "Sometimes they fall down. That’s why you have a regulatory system."
Shoppers should call state inspectors with complaints about their local supermarket, such as spoiled food, Stich said.
You can reach the Long Island and NYC regional office, located in Brooklyn, at 718-722-2876.
But if you think food from the supermarket made you sick, contact your local health department, Stich said.
You can reach the Suffolk County Health Department at 631-854-0000.
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